SON OF THE SOUTH tries its darndest to be respectful
SON OF THE SOUTH (2021)
Hey, I know what the trailer looks like, but I swear this is not a white savior film. Is it still problematic due to its title? Yes. Is it a good film? Well, you’ll just have to keep reading to find out.
I guess you can just look at the rating at the bottom too...
Directed by Barry Alexander Brown, Son of the South is a coming of age drama that, though visually engaging, isn’t really cohesive in its direction. Poor editing aside, there’s a lack of focus on what the dramatic conflict actually is for our protagonist Bob Zellner (based on a true story, by the way). There are a couple scenes that are very clear and fantastic as they introduce a thread, but leaves the thread at dramatic impasses without putting effort to tie any of them up except for perhaps the least interesting subplot. I know what I’m saying boils more down to writing than direction, but Brown is also the only credited writer of the film, so it goes hand-in-hand at this point.
Set in the 1960s, Son of the South follows Bob Zellner, a grandson of a Klansman, wanting to become an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Which, looking past the idea of if this is a film we really need right now in 2021, sets up an interesting dilemma of someone from a racist family learning to overcome the prejudices he was raised to believe. In fact, even though it is barely used at all, this is the strongest and most vocal element in the film with actual Klansman phrases that I still hear from time to time today just from random people on the street.
BUT this is a small portion of the film. The main focus is Bob trying to find his role in the Civil Rights Movement as a white man (yeesh, that sounds bad now that I type it, but hear me out). Bob must learn that this isn’t necessarily his fight, but he can still help with the smaller stuff. He’s not a savior for the cause. However, he will be seen as a traitor by his family and others he has grown up with.
And the plot “works” for the most part, though there is a romance that feels forced, and the story itself doesn’t take enough bold steps to be an effective drama outside of a couple scenes. There isn’t any real motivation behind a lot of actions, and the climax feels very muted as it chooses to focus on a weak subplot that gets an off-screen resolution.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
No one really stands out in the film in terms of performance, but Lucas Till shows that he’s capable of leading a drama despite his comedy past. The mediocre writing and direction doesn’t provide characters for the story, but instead roles. Everyone is pretty much one note, one emotion unless the story requires them to change, and I consider this more of a directing issue than an acting issue.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The little visual effects used in the film look corny, and the sloppy editing only makes it worse as it calls attention to them. Now, when it comes to the wardrobe, hair, and set design, everything looks period accurate, but I noticed a few props I’ve seen in my modern day life, including a lamp I own that shows up multiple times in the film.
This may not be a big deal to most viewers, but if you’re looking to study set design, this is a good way to see what it looks like when you try to pass modern day props for the 1960s.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Though the score doesn’t stick out, it gets the job done setting the emotion of the scene. The sound design itself is pretty fantastic, with great sound mixing for the dialogue and the ambience of the south playing out in the quieter moments. Easily the best element of the film, it’s so organic to the point you may overlook it.
To its credit, Son of the South tries its darndest to be respectful of the Civil Rights Movement and tries to show, from a white perspective, that the fight for equal rights isn’t over; racism is still prevalent in our society. Maybe, since it’s a film with a white lead, it may show some people the errors of their ways, and that’s the best I can hope this film will accomplish.
However, what’s really troubling is how the title, accurate as it may be, seems to be a play on the problematic 1946 Disney film Song of the South, which not only contains problematic representation of the Black race but also perpetuates a glorified view of slavery. I cannot condemn or defend Son of the South’s choice of title, but essentially “whitewashing” a title known for featuring Black actors may not have been the best move.